The Eternal Recurrence by Randy Kadish
My computer screen went black. Not expected. The end result: I shelled out a thousand bucks for a new laptop, and then spent endless hours talking on the phone with tech support.
My dentist told me I need oral surgery. Not expected. The end result: I shelled out another thousand dollars, and then woke up the next morning with a jaw so swollen it looked like I ran into a Lennox Lewis right.
I wondered, Why me? After all, I always say please and thank you. Am I falling into a black hole of unexpected disasters? Will I come out of it? Where? When? The opening day of trout season? Yes. Thankfully, some things in the universe are expected. So what if my favorite river, the beautiful Croton, is a hike from the train station. So what if the river will be high and fast from all the recent rain. In the scope of things, what right do I have to complain after the unexpected outbreak of World War I or the attacks on 9/11?
And so on the eve of opening day, I went through the ritual of piling all my fly-fishing gear on the floor. The next morning I put on my heaviest long johns, wool pants and fleece jacket, and headed to Grand Central Station where I performed another part of my fly-fishing ritual: buying a slice of Junior’s cheesecake.
On the train, I ate my cake and wondered if I would see Hal, Gil and Pat this season, and if they read and liked my memoir about them and the Croton.
About an hour later I got off the train and was slapped by wind.
Will the wind turn out to be another unexpected disaster?
Hoping it wouldn’t, I walked through the long parking lot, and heard humming. The humming, I knew was the sound of the lower East Branch. I listened and remembered how soothing the river’s melody was. Grateful to be in nature’s beautiful presence, I wondered why I had never climbed over the wood railing, and then down the hill and checked out the lower stretch of the river. After all, it was close to the train station. Was it because few, if any, anglers fished the stretch and I was afraid of being alone?
I walked about a quarter mile to Butlerville Road. Only one car was parked near the small, white bridge. Surprised, I walked a hundred more yards, and then into the deserted clearing on the bank of Garcia Pool, the so called “Clubhouse.”
Where are its members? Discouraged by the cold and the high water, probably. They didn’t discourage me. Am I that different from other anglers? A lot of them have computers that break and gums that recede.
The sky-high, bare trees on both sides of the bank clashed with the six-month old vision of autumn I had saved in the internal drive of my mind: trees decorated with beautiful gold, red and orange leaves. The bare trees, on the other hand, looked like a vision I had seen in photographs of World War I battlefields. I told myself not to worry, that soon the river will be lined with overhanging, sun-tinged leaves.
Is that what Nietzsche means by the Eternal Recurrence? Is opening day, along with doing laundry, and working the Twelve-Steps, also a part of his theory?
Not sure, I performed the part of my fly-fishing ritual I didn’t like: putting on my waders and boots, and setting up my fly rod. The sun came out, suddenly. Maybe the Croton rewarding me for showing up.
Dividing Garcia Pool was a dense band of shimmering stars—a two-dimensional, miniature galaxy of massless suns. I liked my description. I took out my small pad and wrote it down so if I ever needed it, I could later upload it into my mind and then into one of my stories. But then I wondered if I was overreaching to find beauty in a world full of unexpected disappointments.
I didn’t see a hatch. Will a brown Woolly Bugger work today? If only catching fish was predictable. But if it was there’d probably be no challenge beckoning me back.
The river was high and fast. Wanting slower water, I followed the path alongside the bank and walked upstream to the run right below Frustration Pool. I climbed down the bank and waded in. The water was up to my thigh, surprisingly. I pulled line off my reel. Someone walked along the bank, an old guy wearing a floppy hat and carrying a cane rod.
I said, “I remember you. Last year you were sitting on that fallen tree and fishing.”
“At my age I have a right to be a lazy angler. You’re the writer.”
“Guilty. You’re Mel.”
“Except when it comes to rummy.”
“I read your memoir. We talked about it at the winter meeting. Some guys said the last thing we need up here are more anglers.”
“What about you?”
“I loved your piece, even though you left me out, but I’m not surprised. I never win anything.”
“Maybe I’ll get you in the next one, if there is a next one.”
“I never know when or if new ideas will come.”
“I once wanted to be a photographer. They too try to see the world differently, but I guess I couldn’t, so instead I became an interpreter, of the law. I’m an attorney.”
“Thanks. How’d you become a writer?”
“I was having trouble casting a spinning rod, even after reading up on it, so I began experimenting with different techniques, and then I started taking notes so I wouldn’t forget what I had learned. Somehow I got the idea to turn my notes into an article. When I published it, I never, ever thought it would lead to anything. Where is everyone, or at least the diehards?”
“It’s too cold. In my case, how many opening days do I have left?”
And how many do I have? Twenty? Thirty? How many opening days does mankind have? Thousands? Or Will war cut the number short?
I said, “You weren’t fishing with a cane rod last year.”
“I decided there’s no point in waiting to buy myself a gift. It’s a shame, though. I have no one to leave it to. None of my kids fish. They’ll probably put my rods and reels on eBay.”
“How do you like cane?”
“I’ll tell you after I land a fish. Some anglers say that when it comes to fishing rods cane is better than graphite. But with all the latest technology, does that make any sense?”
“I never fished cane, so I don’t know. Where are you heading, below the bridge?”
“Home. The water is too cold and fast for me. I’ll see you again, I’m sure.”
Sure? I was once sure I had more time with my parents, so now I’m not sure that Sarah’s cancer stays in remission. The only thing predictable about cancer, the doctors told me, was its unpredictability. If only cancer had an opening day, then—is life like cancer? I never thought I’d where I am in the river of life: a childless, journeyman writer. No wonder I can’t stop regretting the past.
I watched Mel walk down the bank, and thought of how something I couldn’t see or touch— like gravity, perhaps—connected anglers and helped me feel less alone.
I roll cast across stream, mended and retrieved my fly, then again. No take. Time for streamer technique number two: I roll cast, then, using the jerk-strip retrieve I had learned in Kelly Gallop’s and Bob Linesman’s book, I worked my fly downstream and back to me.
Don’t rush. Stay in the moment. Cover as much water as possible, and sooner or later the takes will come. And don’t keep repeating the same technique. Use several, one right after another. What if time could learn from streamer fishing and not repeat itself? Would the world be even more unpredictable? I guess not even Einstein would know.
Again I cast and jerk-strip retrieved. No take. Time for technique number three: I back cast—right into a branch. I forgot to look behind. A spring-training error. I pulled my fly free, luckily, cast three-quarters downstream, and let the river dead-drift my fly directly below me. I moved my fly rod side to side, feeding line through the guides. I pointed my rod tip up and waited. No take. I retrieved, and then cast my fly closer to the bank. I listened to the gurgling river and the singing birds.
[I]Yes, rivers are like the music halls of the universe. Or is the Croton is playing only for me, rewarding me for traveling two hours to experience its beauty? Maybe even rivers don’t want to be alone, and have feelings they transform into passionate music. Do rivers, and even the universe, have souls?[I]
I waded downstream and started another fishing cycle. Close to the bank the water was foamy. Some of the foam was illuminated by sunlight and looked like floating flower petals or silver dollars. Racing past them were eddies. Some eddies were so small and fast they looked like spinning tops, or miniature black holes. If they are black holes maybe they’ll suck up the rest of the water and, like black holes in the universe, stop time, at least on the Croton. After all, I’ve lost track of time, of myself, and also of the wide, wide world, and suddenly I don’t need to sell my book or to be in love to be happy. Are rivers—their sounds, their images, their beauty—reflections of earthly harmony or of some sort of divine, eternal plan that scientists like Kepler, Newton and Einstein spent their lives trying to uncover? Where any of those men fly fishermen?
Again, I waded downstream. The water was higher and faster, and for a second I felt I was back playing high school football and a blocker was trying to take out my legs. I didn’t let him. I planted my wading stick behind me, turned and, one careful step at a time, waded to the bank. I walked downstream and climbed down into Garcia Pool. I waded six steps and the water was already above my waist.
The river, I noticed, had whittled away more of the bank, exposing more roots and bringing more trees closer to their inevitable fall.
Is time a river that is whittling away parts of me? If only I could stop it and stay in this moment forever. Then upstream wouldn’t be my future and downstream wouldn’t be my past; and the moment, cleansed of my feelings and dreams, would be, as Macbeth described, an empty stage. Or would it?
“Any luck!” someone yelled. Standing on the bank was a stocky guy I had
never seen before.
“It’s still too early. What you got on?” His voice was as loud as a horn, and as smooth as thorns.
I told him.
“I didn’t see another car. How’d you get here?”
“You came from Manhattan?” he accused.
“Are you holding it against me?”
“No, I—guys from all over fish here.” He sat on the big, fallen tree and sucked on a cigarette.
I asked, “Has there been any more talk of renaming Garcia Pool?”
“Since some stupid writer published a story about the Croton, why the hell would there be?”
“Good. Fishing pools, like planets, should keep their names.”
“Are you &#%tting me? Fishing pools are not like planets.”
“You never know.
I thought of asking him if he knew Gil, Hal and Pat, but I quickly decided that listening to the river was a lot better than listening to him. I roll cast and tried to pretend he wasn’t there, but every time I glanced up I faced reality: him sitting there, watching me, judging me.
Yes, he’s waiting for me to do the hard work. If I get a take I’m sure he’ll go back to his car and put on his waders. I’ve seen lazy anglers play that game before. I resent it!
The band of shimmering stars, I noticed, was thinner and weaker. I looked up. The sun was sliding behind the high, steep bank. I zippered up my fleece jacket.
“Hey! I had a feelin’ I’d see you guys here!”
Two guys I didn’t know walked into the clubhouse.
“What are you takin’ the day off?” one asked.
“No. I finished the job.”
“Don’t bull&#%t me!”
And so began a long, loud conversation, mostly about fishing, but always littered with expletives that should have been deleted. Unlike most fly fishers, these guys still had one foot in the gutter. For the first time in my life I felt I was fly fishing in a three-dollar-a-shot bar. I couldn’t hear the river or the thoughts in my head. Detaching from the guys on the bank was not a way.
Again and again I glared at them, but my eyes didn’t complete the connection.
I told myself to wade out of the river and fish upstream. I turned and stepped behind me. A hole! Falling, I desperately clutched my wading stick and tried to balance myself. The water felt like ice. My jacket and shirt were soaked. I jumped up. My expletive wasn’t deleted.
“You gotta be careful!” one of the guys yelled.
“Thanks for the advice!” I waded out of the river, thinking of how I had never taken a spill before, I reminded myself of the danger of being wet and cold. I had to head to the train station.
Furious my long-awaited opening day was cut short, I ringed water out of my jacket. Again I glared at the guys on the bank. This message wasn’t bounced back. They looked away from me, and lowered their voices. I marched past them, then down Butlerville Road.
When I reached the parking lot I felt warmer. The sun, I saw, wasn’t blocked by a high bank. I looked at my watch. The next train was a half hour away. I had time to climb down the hill and finally check out the lower East Branch.
I climbed over the railing and saw what looked like a path. I followed it. It ran diagonally to the river, and brought me to the mouth of a long, slow pool. On top of the river was another path of shimmering stars. Maybe the stars, like me, left the West Branch and found a more welcoming hangout. The river bottom, I saw, was gravel and easy to wade. I looked at the sun. Spewing rays like a geyser, it would keep me warm for another few hours. My opening day wasn’t over, maybe.
I waded into the middle of the river, and cast. The water flowed gently and seemed to massage my legs, and for a second I thought that maybe the East Branch knew about my spill and was making amends. I laughed and soon I again lost track of time and of myself.
My line slid to the side. Fish on! The shock of the take jump-started my fly rod. It pulsed with life. I squeezed the rod handle and reeled in slack line. The trout bolted downstream, pulling line. My reel spun, and in my mind I heard the sound of roulette. I let the trout run. He slowed, finally. Wading after him, I reeled in line. Thanks to the slow water, the trout couldn’t mount much of a fight. Less than a minute later I landed a twelve-inch rainbow.
Now I was ready to head home.
A half hour later, as I rode on the train, I thought of how strange it was that two unexpected but connected events—the guys on the bank shooting off their mouths, me taking a spill—led to me discovering a small-scale fishing paradise. I wondered if it all was meant to be, and if a higher power had done for me what I couldn’t do for myself.
No, I still can’t believe it.
I looked at the window, and saw my see-through reflection, and felt lucky to have all my hair. I’m not the same person I was years ago. Accidentally, unexpectedly I discovered a better way—a permanent form, perhaps—to cast a spinning rod. Then I looked for a better way to write, to fish, to remove my character defects, to rise above my failures and to forgive. Unlike a planet, I’m not moving in a endless circle, in an eternal recurrence. Unlike time, I’m not moving in a straight, repetitious line. And unlike a river, I’m not overstepping my boundaries because of an unusually heavy rain. But if it wasn’t for unexpected events, would I have changed? Probably not. Can unpredictability, therefore, be part of harmony, part of a great working order of things?
I wasn’t sure, but a few hours later I walked into my apartment, sat down at my desk, and felt grateful for my new, fast computer that burned CDs, and for the advanced oral surgery that saved some of my teeth
Copyright © 2009 by Randy Kadish
My historical novel, The Fly Caster Who Tried to Make Peace with the World, is available on Amazon